As a nonprofit leader you face the same challenges as managers in companies and government bodies. And one of them is that you will need to have hard conversations. With your stakeholders. Or with your donors. With your vendors. And yes, also with your team members.

Why hard conversations are needed inside your nonprofit, too

Someone may not perform as expected. People may not get along in the team. People may have different opinions about how to deal with a setback and this may lead to a big argument nobody seems to be able to end.

There are many reasons why you may need to have a hard conversation with a team member.

and why you cannot avoid hard conversations as a leader

Most nonprofit leaders find it very scary to talk about problems in the team with the person concerned. And they try avoiding it. As if not having the conversation will make the problems go away.

You know that’s not true of course.

Also – if you’re the leader, nobody else can (or should) do this conversation instead of you.

So there’s no way you can hide from this, really.

You just have to do it.



Just do it – how?

And that means that you’ll just need to make a plan for how you can best prepare for and have this conversation.

It depends on the nature of the conversation of course.

If you have to have a conversation around performance and need to make sure you comply with local rules around that, your preparation will be different from when it’s about a conflict in the team or about the role someone is having in the team as a person.

But it also depends on you, what works best for you.

For some of us, it works well to write out the message beforehand. Others prefer trying out the conversation on someone outside the organisation. If you don’t have someone outside the team to use as a sounding board you can also record yourself. You can then look at the recording a bit later to see how you come across.

Some people like thinking of all the things the other person can interject – and prepare for that. Sometimes you can even find a possible middleground that way. Looking at the situation from different perspectives before you have the conversation can make alternative solutions visible.

Some people like reading up on tips for hard conversations and prepare their message in line with the sandwich or other principles they read about.

Whatever helps you feel calm going into the conversation is what is right for you. It may be something completely different, like doing a breathing exercise beforehand. Whatever it is, try to listen to your needs and experiment so that you can find something that works for you.

Learn to do better every time

Sometimes it can help to have a third person present in the conversation, a listener. Someone you trust with whom you can reflect on the conversation afterwards. So that you can learn from this experience and do better next time.

Because like with everything else, hard conversations get easier the more practice you get and the more you try learning from each of them.

So the main reason why hard conversations remain hard is basically that we try to avoid them – and lose opportunities to practise and learn.

How I can help

Check out my free Ten Esssential Strategic Documents Your Nonprofit Needs to Have:

In August 2023, I will host a few sessions talking about so-called soft skills nonprofit leaders need. Like how to have hard conversation, keep your team motivated, get through a crisis and take care of yourself. If you’re interested in joining, make sure you’re subscribed to my weekly Monday Motivations. That way you’ll be the first to know when they happen and how you can join!

If you are looking for a complete step by step system to set up and implement compliant and caring personnel policies and contracting for your nonprofit in line with best practices in the sector – without a law degree – join my Course Practical Labour Law & HR for nonprofits here:

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into my nonprofit support community and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free nonprofit support community

You can join my free nonprofit support community on the Heartbeat platform here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.

You can visit the community via a browser or via an app. Here is the link to download the Heartbeat chat app in the Google Play store.

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